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Inmates' Monroe jail suit is settled

A 12-year-old class action lawsuit by inmates at the Monroe County Jail was settled Monday, said attorneys for the inmates who have long complained of inhumane conditions.

The 64-page settlement will now go to U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who in February 1991 lowered the number of inmates at the overcrowded jail and urged all sides to settle the matter out of court.

The Key West jail has long been criticized by inmates and their advocates for overcrowding, violence and mistreatment by guards.

A separate lawsuit by the Florida Department of Corrections against the jail is pending.

The settlement reached Monday includes improvements in the physical plant of the main jail, sanitation and maintenance repairs, better housing conditions and care for juveniles, mentally ill and handicapped inmates, and improvements in the food, exercise, educational and religious programs.

The most significant improvement would be the classification of inmates, said Randall Berg Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute Inc., a public interest law firm in Miami that represents people in institutions.

"The jail had no classification system," he said. "So inmates housed with multiple traffic tickets could be housed with an ax murderer."

Berg said another improvement would be to provide better psychiatric and psychological counseling for mentally ill inmates.

The jail was originally designed for about 65 inmates, but additions have been built piecemeal.

The number of inmates reached into the high 200s in the last decade. Last year, Hoeveler ordered the cap lowered to 200.

Construction is under way on a new jail that will cost about $38- million, said Monroe County Attorney Randy Ludacer. He said he didn't know how much the programs would cost.

Asked if the county was pleased with the settlement, Ludacer said, "To say the county is pleased or not pleased is something that stretches my imagination farther than it wants to go."